Newbie Case Study #3: A Fear Of The Open Water

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Over the next few days we’ll profile four newbie triathletes who’ve faced some of the most common challenges when just getting started in the sport. Let their rookie mistakes—and our expert-sourced solutions—give you a competitive edge, no matter your racing level.

Newbie Case Study #3
Sarah Cho, 27, San Francisco

A self-proclaimed “horribly uncoordinated” policy researcher, Cho was first introduced to endurance events because of co-worker peer pressure. She surprised her unathletic self by finishing her first half-marathon and decided to sign up for a local sprint tri, See Jane Run Tri, last September. Next on her list is Ironman 70.3 Vineman in July.

Biggest challenge: At her first (and only) race, Cho discovered a fear she didn’t know she had—swimming in open water. “I breaststroked and dog-paddled the whole swim in a major state of panic, which led to the next mistake: letting the swim portion get to me,” Cho says. “I should have put the swim behind me, but instead I let it get to me throughout the race, cursing myself for doing so poorly.” She’s also not sure which triathlon gear to buy before her first half-Ironman, and because she’s so new to cycling, clipping in and learning which gear to be in is still a challenge.

Sidestep it: Cho should join a local triathlon club and tag along with them on their open-water swim practices, advises coach Dave Pruetz of In Training. “If that’s not an option, recruit a swim buddy to go with you to a local body of water and practice your stroke, sighting, and a little ‘combat’ swimming with each other. Swim along the shoreline so if any panic sets in, you’re only a few yards from shore.” Another tip Pruetz offers: When you enter the water wearing your wetsuit, pull the neck/top out, squat in the water and let as much water in as you can. This will loosen the suit so it is not so tight on you.

As for clipping in and out of bike pedals, practice on a sidewalk at a park with grass on either side. To learn your bicycle’s gears better, pick a road/hill with a slight grade (3–5 percent), that has minimal car traffic. Slow down, which will cause heavy resistance, then downshift to an easier gear. “Ride the hill up and down several times and continue to shift to get more familiar with your gears,” says Pruetz. “Some bikes have three sprockets in front while some only have two. A bike with three sprockets will be a better ‘climbing’ bike.”

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